Children often ask their mom or dad, “Where did I come from?” Depending on the age of the child and the comfort level of the adult, this may be followed by an awkward pause while Mom or Dad frantically considers how to explain the answer!
No such awkward pause ensues when we ask God that question.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV)
This comes at the end of a long description of God’s creation of our world and everything in it. When a painter finishes a new work, it is his or hers to keep, sell, give away, or throw in the trash. Same for an author or a woodworker. What we create belongs to us. Because God created everything in this world…including us!…it all belongs to him.
His right of ownership also gives him the right to set the rules, make the decisions, exercise justice…to rule. But he decided to delegate this authority to us. Go figure! Our original job as humans was to rule as his representatives on this planet, as he would: mercifully, generously, responsibly. We ruled this planet; he ruled us. To equip us to govern well, he made us in his own image….like him.
The original readers of Genesis were Israelites who lived in the ancient Near East where it was commonly thought that the the king of a country was the image of the god he served. But for the ordinary guy or girl on the street no such luck.
How shocked must the Israelites have been when Moses told them in Genesis that they, recently freed slaves, were made in the image of the true God?! Not long before they had been considered disposable by their overlords. But the true Ruler of a far greater empire than ancient Egypt says they are anything but. They are, in fact, incredibly valuable because they are made in God’s image.
Many people struggle with self-esteem, questioning whether they have value. It doesn’t seem to matter whether our job is doctor, investment broker or stay-at-home parent; at some level we all seem to wrestle with whether what we do, and therefore who we are, is significant.
But Genesis tells us that our value doesn’t come from being the kind of person who actually gets everything crossed off the to-do list or from having a lot of education or a lot of money. We aren’t valuable only if we look like the people in beer commercials. Every human being is valuable simply because we bear the imprint of God.
Interestingly, when Jesus was on earth and fielding a trick question from the audience designed to get him in hot water with the Roman emperor Caesar over whether or not to pay taxes to the Roman government, he volleyed the question back to the crowd by asking them whose image was on Roman money. Since each emperor minted money with his picture on it, they replied that it was Caesar’s image on the money. Then Jesus said,
“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Matthew 22:21 (NIV)
The coin had Caesar’s image on it, therefore it belonged to Caesar. We have God’s image on us, therefore we belong to God. Giving to God what is God’s would mean that we are to give ourselves to God.
That’s a little different from how I normally think. Usually I think in terms of how much of MY time I am going to give to God or what percentage of MY resources I can spare for him. The stakes get a lot higher when he says I am to give myself to him….all of me, no reserve, nothing held back, all in. Suddenly all of my resources and my time (and a whole host of other things!) belong to him. My whole life, in fact. I may be immensely valuable because I bear God’s image, but I am also not my own. No one is.
But we struggle with more than our own significance, we also struggle with the significance of others. No, wait, that’s not true. We don’t struggle at all. We know exactly how significant they are; we decide precisely each time they interact with us. If they get in our way, annoy us, make us late, don’t do what we say, cut us off in traffic, give us a hard time when we call in for customer service, or forget to run the errand we asked them to and the bottom drops out of their significance and their value goes way down, in our opinion. We treat the other person badly because we figure they don’t matter, or at least they don’t matter as much as we do.
But whether it is the checkout clerk, the telemarketer or our spouse, they too were created in the image of God. They are incredibly valuable and important, whether they seem so to us or not.
This shows up most strikingly in the way we treat the opposite sex. Men are considered stupid children who need to be taken care of and women are considered bodies that exist for someone else’s pleasure.
But Genesis said: “In the image of God he created THEM; male and female he created THEM.” It takes both men and women together to accurately reflect the image of God. We need each other. Men and women are partners in reflecting the image of God. Men and women are a team. The commands are given to both of them. The mandate to rule was as well.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 1:28-2:3 (NIV)
Humanity was God’s final creation. And when God looked back over all that he had made in its totality it was very good.
You were created by the great God, in his image, to rule for him on this planet. You have valuable, important work to do. You are not defined by your employer’s job description. You are not valuable only if other people tell you that you are. You are not successful only when you win.
We are valuable because like that Roman coin we are stamped with God’s image…we belong to him.